June 28, 2009 in Idaho Voices

Otter, Obama score low in Idaho favorability poll

Betsy Z. Russell

BOISE - Idahoans are much more favorable in their views of all four members of their congressional delegation than they are unfavorable, according to a new Idaho poll, but they’re less enthusiastic about Gov. Butch Otter.

Idaho pollster Greg Smith‘s survey was conducted June 15-18 and queried 400 randomly selected Idahoans 18 or older. It found little unfavorable sentiment about U.S. Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Reps. Walt Minnick and Mike Simpson. Otter, on the other hand, while also ranked favorably by nearly half of Idahoans, was viewed unfavorably by 35 percent.

Here are the numbers: Crapo, 59 percent favorable, 17 percent unfavorable; Risch, 49 percent favorable, 19 percent unfavorable; Minnick, 47 percent favorable, 20 percent unfavorable; Simpson, 56 percent favorable, 8 percent unfavorable. For Otter, the comparable figures were 47 percent favorable, 35 percent unfavorable.

Smith said fallout from this year’s contentious legislative session likely affected Otter’s scores.

The poll also showed that Idahoans are less favorable toward President Barack Obama than the nation, but they don’t feel all that strongly about it. The president polled 45 percent favorable, 47 percent unfavorable. It also found that 53.8 percent of Idahoans feel the state is going in the right direction.

Vote possible on voting rule

Backers of mail-in voting in Idaho have filed an initiative petition seeking to let Idaho voters decide if they should be allowed to put in a permanent request for an absentee ballot, rather than having to request one each election.

Former Democratic congressional candidate Larry Grant, a board member of Idaho Vote by Mail Inc., said, “There are plenty of folks who need or prefer to vote by mail, but we are not asking that Idaho go to full voting by mail. The initiative simply provides that those folks who want or need to vote by absentee ballot don’t have to ask for one every time. It’s a good middle ground. Those who want it can do it. Those who don’t want to, don’t have to.”

Though Idaho’s county clerks have been supportive of mail-voting options, the Legislature hasn’t. If the proposed voter initiative gets the required signatures, it would go on the ballot in 2012 – not the next general election, but the one after; backers opted to take the extra time to gather the required 52,000 signatures.

Inmate population shrinks

Idaho’s Department of Correction says it’s now brought back another 68 inmates who had been housed out of state, in Sayre, Okla., bringing the state down to 120 out-of-state inmates, all of whom are now scheduled to be returned to Idaho by the end of the summer. The reason: Idaho’s prison population has actually dropped, which the department called “unprecedented.”

At the start of the fiscal year, July 1, 2008, Idaho had 7,338 people incarcerated. Today, that figure is 7,270. State Corrections Director Brent Reinke said the decline comes because of “better coordination between the department and its criminal justice partners.”

That means everything from more substance abuse treatment and more use of sanctions that serve as alternatives to prison time, to improvements in getting inmates the programs they need to qualify for parole by the time they reach their eligibility dates. “The return of these inmates is a reflection of how Idaho’s criminal justice system is working as a system,” Reinke said.

Also, additional prison space is being brought on line, including 628 new beds at the privately operated but state-owned Idaho Correctional Center south of Boise.

Tweets chronicle State Board meeting

During the last state Board of Education meeting, spokesman Mark Browning kept folks up to date on what was happening with periodic, up-to-the-minute “tweets” on Twitter.com. Browning said, “Board meetings for me are basically a juggling act. … Everyone’s wondering where they’re at, where they are in the agenda.”

Browning said he heard about Twitter when The Spokesman-Review used it as part of its reporting on the Joseph Duncan death penalty trial last fall. “I thought, ‘I wonder if that might work for a board meeting.’ ” After some thought, he said, “We just said, ‘Hey, let’s give it a whirl – and the price is right.’ (It’s free.) I think, if we do it right, hopefully it’ll prove useful for folks.”

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